Afew years ago, Medford resident John Waldrop, a Marine who lost both his legs below the knees while serving in Vietnam, gave me an inexpensive but powerful gift.
It was a little pin with two yellow footprints.
As intended, it brought back memories shared by all who have stood quivering in the yellow footprints as a raw recruit at the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot in San Diego.
I invariably think of those footprints on this day, the birthday of the Corps, which began 238 years ago on Nov. 10, 1775, in Philadelphia.
For the uninitiated, 45-degree angle footprints are painted on the asphalt near where recruits are unloaded from a cattle car fresh from the airport. Inviting them to move expeditiously from the cars to the footprints are expletive-screaming drill instructors.
For me, those tracks led to what would become Platoon 2052, shepherded by drill instructors Gunnery Sgt. Smith and Staff Sgts. Lynch and McCabe. We would stand in those footprints from slightly after midnight until dawn.
Then the real fun began.
A little over a year ago, I gave the pin with the yellow footprints to fellow Marine Steve Bobb, who had stood next to me that chilly March night in 1969. I figured Steve, who had been diagnosed with leukemia before I gave him the pin, needed a chuckle and a reminder of what he could endure.
As I suspected, Steve proved a tough customer for mere cancer.
"I had chemo from last November through March," he told me Friday afternoon. "I was real concerned at first, but it wasn't so bad. It worked. The doctors said I have the kind they can manage.
"So I'm good to go," he added. "I'm getting my energy back."
Not that he is ready just yet for another 265-mile walk like the one he took in 2002 from the Table Rocks to the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation, where he grew up. The 13-day trek was to re-enact the forced march his ancestors took in 1856 from Southern Oregon to the reservation.
Eight of the 325 people who started from the Table Rocks in the 1856 march died en route. It was on the heels of the Rogue River Indian wars in the mid-1850s, and the Indian bands from our region were forced to march to the Siletz and Grand Ronde reservations in northwestern Oregon.
Steve, who has served on the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation tribal council in recent years, is a talented sculptor who lives in Willamina.
Like me, he can't help but think of the Corps today. We were both corporals when we completed our hitches. He would be sent to Vietnam shortly after basic; I and many others from our platoon ended up at Camp Pendleton for the duration.
"None of us who went through the Corps ever forgot those yellow footprints," Steve observed.
"I don't know if you remember, but I got punched in the airport by a staff sergeant when we got there," he added. "I must have looked around or something. I remember thinking when he punched me, 'Can he do this with all these civilians around?' I found out he could."
And that was before we got to the recruiting depot and the yellow footprints that would leave indelible tracks across our minds.
"One of the main things I remember was that it seems like there were fewer footprints than there were people," he recalled. "They probably did that on purpose to get us motivated to get over there."
The footprints were perhaps several hundred feet from where the cattle car stopped. When a DI told us to get on the yellow footprints, we ran en masse, a frightened mob beating feet.
"That one guy named something like Baddus — the short guy with glasses — was packing all our files," Steve continued. "When we ran out of the cattle car, he was knocked down in the rush. Remember those files flying all over the place?"
With that, we both burst out laughing at the memory of flying papers, scrambling recruits and frothing-at-the-mouth DIs.
"Then early the next morning, one of the DIs said, 'I need one bad ass,' " Steve said. "Baddus stepped forward right there in front of us."
The poor fellow, standing between Steve and I, apparently thought the DI had called his name. Not a prudent move.
"That's when the DI told him, 'You think you're a bad ass,' and started choking him," I interjected, causing us both to start chortling again at the absurdity of it all.
"It's funny now but it sure wasn't then," Steve said after we caught our breath. "But we got through it. We learned to keep our mouths shut and not to draw attention to ourselves."
Happy birthday, Steve.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or firstname.lastname@example.org.